My Guide to Madrid

I have always wanted to go Europe, but the opportunity did not present itself until the recent (feels like a lifetime ago though) Christmas/New Year’s holiday period. I wanted to go somewhere warm and sunny during this holiday period and so I suggested Cairns. I was looking forward to relaxing on the beach and sipping on cocktails as well as visiting the Great Barrier Reef. However, Dorian did not think this was exciting enough and suggested Japan. But flight tickets and accommodation were going to be too costly during this holiday period and we quickly scrapped this idea.

Whilst doing some holiday research online, I came across Western/Southern Europe being relatively affordable and low tourist season during the Christmas/New Year’s break due to the winter season. I jumped at the idea of visiting Europe but had to choose between Spain, Portugal and Italy due to our limited time (we had about 2.5 weeks). After a little more research, we chose Portugal as it typically has the warmest winters as well as being the most affordable.

However, before starting our Portuguese adventure, we had a little stopover in Madrid to try out the Paella and Sangria the whole world raves about when they visit Spain! And the whole world is NOT wrong 😊

So, what is there to see/do in Madrid during the Christmas/New Year’s holiday period?

  1. Visit the Palacio Real de Madrid (Royal Palace of Madrid)

The architecture of this palace is something that I have never seen before – it was a pretty surreal experience. If you get the chance, I would highly recommend seeing the sunrise from the palace as it is very pretty. The sunset behind the Royal Palace is also quite spectacular to watch, especially on a clear night.

Sunrise by the Palacio Real de Madrid.
Sunset from the back of the Palacio Real de Madrid.

You can also enter the palace and tickets are €11 per person. It took us almost three hours to take in the beauty of the inside of the palace as well as see various exhibitions within the palace, but it could have easily been a half day trip at the palace. There is also a scenic viewpoint within the palace grounds which has one of the most amazing views of Madrid.

Ticket to the Palacio Real de Madrid.
Scenic viewpoint from inside the Royal Palace grounds.

There are also interesting random acts outside palace grounds. Some of these acts were pretty remarkable, others were pretty normal and something you would find in Melbourne. If you would like to take a photo with any of these random acts, they would appreciate a gold coin donation.

Random acts outside the Royal Palace.
  1. Visit the Real Jardín Botánico de Madrid (Madrid’s botanical garden)

This botanical garden is one of the biggest garden I have been to. It is 8 hectares in size and again you can spend as little as an hour to as long as the entire day if you are into plants/trees. We only spent a couple of hours at this garden.

  1. Walk along Gran Via

This street is known as the Spanish Broadway and located in central Madrid. It is one of the streets with the most nightlife in Europe and famous for being the street that never sleeps. It starts at Calle de Alcala, through to Plaza de Cibeles and ending at Plaza de Espana.

The street is filled with shopping areas/malls, some hotels and large movie theatres. When we there, the El Rey Leon (Lion King) musical was on tour (located in the Lope de Vega theatre on Gran Via), but did we did not get the chance to watch it. However, it is highly recommended by the experts even though it is in Spanish!

Christmas tree in Gran Via.
  1. Visit the many squares of Madrid:
  • Puerta del Sol (Gate of the Sun) – one of Madrid’s busiest squares and it is the exact centre of Spain. There were also many pretty Christmas decorations around this square;
    Christmas tree in Puerta del Sol.

    Famous statue in Puerta del Sol.
  • Plaza de Cibeles – located just off Gran Via in one Madrid’s busiest traffic hubs;

    Plaza de Cibeles.
  • Plaza Mayor – enclosed with nine entrance archways and surrounded by many cafes and restaurants. During the Christmas period, there was a huge Christmas night market and it was decked out with lights and was bustling with locals and tourists;

    Christmas night market at Plaza Mayor.
  • Plaza del Callao – located in Gran Via with art-deco architecture (check out Callao Cinema building and the Carrion building with the Schweppes billboard);

    Famous Schweppes/Vodafone building.
  • Plaza de Espana – located in the western end of Gran Via;
  • Plaza Oriente – open square with a backdrop of the Royal Palace. It is the perfect place to take in the beautiful site of the Royal Palace; and

    Sunrise in Plaza de Oriente with the Royal Palace in the backdrop.
  • Plaza de Paja – located in the La Latina district with a café terrace where you can enjoy a cup of coffee/tea and cakes/pastries.Of course, there are many other squares you could visit, but these were squares we managed to visit during our limited time in Madrid.
  1. Visit the Salamanca district

This district is known for its posh cafes and world class restaurants. We walked to Salamanca from Madrid central and I would highly recommend this walk as you would pass many famous buildings/squares. We started off the walk from Puerta del Sol, via Gran Via, towards Plaza de Cibeles, walked past the famous arch of Recoletos and then walked through Buen Retiro park to get to Salamanca. The walk took a bit over an hour, but could take longer if you spend some time at the various buildings/squares.

Famous arch of Recoletos which is located in the middle of a roundabout.
  1. Visit the Mercado de San Miguel (San Miguel Market)

This market is great if you are looking for tapas style food as you can get paellas, empanadas, churros/porras, tortillas, fried calamari, sangria and pastries, just to name a few. It can get relatively busy at the market during meal times, so if you are not into queueing up in line patiently, I suggest you go during non-peak times. Otherwise, you would not find the experience pleasant.

Bustling Mercado de San Miguel during dinner.
Yummy chicken & chorizo paella at Mercado de San Miguel.

Of course, there are other places you could visit in Madrid. But I believe, if you are pressed for time, these are the must-see places in Madrid. Also, I would recommend spending three nights (four days) in Madrid. But if you are looking for a less jam-packed itinerary, an extra night or two in Madrid would be advisable.

For some good food and cafes/restaurants in Madrid, check out my blog post here.

Happy travelling 🙂

Palacio Real de Madrid at night.


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